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William Faulkner

William Faulkner

William Faulkner: Nobel Prize & Death

By 1945, William Faulkner was a part-time screenwriter and full-time alcoholic with only one of his seventeen novels—the racy Sanctuary—still in print. After publishing Absalom, Absalom!, he continued to write novels, but stayed financially afloat by penning short stories ("A Rose for Emily," "Red Leaves"), many of which appeared in The Saturday Evening Post. Though Faulkner's genius was recognized abroad—Jean-Paul Sartre said at the time that "for the young people of France, Faulkner is a god"31—in his native country he remained a relatively obscure novelist. However, everything changed in 1945, when Malcolm Cowley, a prominent literary critic and an editor at The New Republic, began to champion Faulkner's work. Cowley proposed that he and Faulkner work together on an anthology of Faulkner's writing that would include excerpts from his novels, information on the families of Yoknapatawpha County, and some of his short fiction. Cowley edited the book, The Portable Faulkner, which was released in 1946. The publication of The Portable Faulkner vaulted the formerly overlooked author out of literary obscurity in the United States. The anthology received glowing reviews and introduced many Americans to Faulkner's masterful storytelling and revolutionary techniques. Following the success of The Portable Faulkner, Cowley lobbied for the re-release of The Sound and the Fury and As I Lay Dying. The exposure paid off, big time. In 1949, Faulkner was awarded the Nobel Prize in Literature, which gave him some hard-earned recognition and much-needed cash (to the tune of $30,000). In his 1950 acceptance speech, Faulkner said, "I feel that this award was not made to me as a man, but to my work—a life's work in the agony and sweat of the human spirit, not for glory and least of all for profit, but to create out of the materials of the human spirit something which did not exist before."32 After receiving the Nobel Prize, Faulkner continued to write, but never produced anything that rivaled The Sound and the Fury or Absalom, Absalom! . Nonetheless, his works were published to critical acclaim, and he was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for A Fable (1955) and The Reivers (1963). In June 1962, Faulkner badly injured his back while horseback riding at Rowan Oak. The pain was nearly unbearable; to ameliorate his agony (which left him bedridden), he took large doses of alcohol, painkillers, and tranquilizers. When Faulkner became disoriented and incoherent weeks later, he was taken to Wright Sanatorium, where he had spent time recovering from past alcoholic episodes. On 6 July 6, not even eight hours after he was admitted to the hospital, William Faulkner suffered a heart attack and died. Faulkner's passing came as a shock to nearly everyone; he was, after all, only 64 years old. Though his death represented a major loss for literary community, Faulkner had made his mark as an innovative, prolific author, and left an indelible impression on the world. While he had to wait many years—and suffer many hardships—before he received the recognition he deserved, Faulkner ultimately lived to see his artistic legacy fulfilled. As the Italian novelist, Alberto Moravia, said of the now-mythic southern author, "you will find Faulkner's fingerprint everywhere, sometimes visible and sometimes not."33

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